Its only been about two months since I’ve arrived at site, and it feels like a couple weeks but it also feels like its been about a year. Its already started getting pretty cold, and when I think about the impending winter my heart starts racing a little. This will be my first, real zuud. I’m still in this out-of-body state where I don’t really believe I’m in this for the long haul. I talk to a few Peace Corps friends on a regular basis, and a theme that comes up in our conversations is the whole “living in the present” cliché. Frankly, it’s the only mantra I can live by that gets me through the day.
In the United States, I wasn’t exactly confident in my professional abilities. I enjoy waking up late, I prefer to work at home, I loathe the small talk that builds those relationships that get you a promotion, or as it was in my case, the privilege to continue working for free or better hours. But now I’ve found myself clinging onto the people who are even just a little bit nice to me, asking them slightly moronic questions like if they have children or what their hobbies are. The whole notion of “awkwardness” flew out the window when we stepped off the plane in Ulaanbaatar back in May. I watch myself do a lot of things I wouldn’t have ever done if I wasn’t here, but when it comes down to it, I’m not given much choice on the matter. There is so much that is out of our hands, and most of the time, I’m mentally standing five feet away watching myself perform tedious tasks with a stupid smile on my face. (One of my favorite words in Mongolian: тэнэг (tenig)—stupid.)
There are a lot of things I could get upset about everyday. I got so homesick when I opened the package my mom sent me. I caught a whiff of the laundry detergent from home she used to wash underwear she bought for me from Ross. It was the smell of home. I hadn’t allowed myself to miss anything from home, because I didn’t think I did. That stupid smell sent me over the edge I needed to step over.
I’ll happily admit that this first bit here at site has been rougher than I wish it had been. There’s this chart that Peace Corps gives us that graphs out our happiness and mood levels throughout service. “Your service is a rollercoaster” is basically what it says. The spikes of happiness have been extreme, but the lows can be pretty damn low. Essentially, the first few months at site are supposed to be new and exciting! Fantastically grand with Technicolor multicultural shininess!
But “no peace corps service is the same,” and “everybody has different experiences.”
So now I watch myself from a distance, living in the present, doing things that simply need to be done. I come home at the end of the day slightly proud, though. Even if its going to every damn дэлгүүр (delguur) on every corner to find eggs. In the United States, I couldn’t have been bothered to deal with the things I do here. I spend hours on the most mundane tasks but get a quiet pleasure out of accomplishing something together with a host country national and yes, building a connection.
I’ve just passed a threshold in which I no longer find Mongolia new and strange, but rather familiar and sometimes annoying. I can’t make it through the week without being watched while eating mutton at least four or five times. I miss not being able to eat local grown organic produce whenever I want, but I do have people who hover over me making sure I eat enough. It can be mildly endearing, albeit incredibly irritating at times. My ээж (eej—mom) called me and told me she missed me, which I was honestly surprised by. It warmed me.
Most of my days in Darkhan with my host family were spent either helping cook, watching weird television programs I never understood, doing a lot of nothing and talking about how hot it was. I saw my host dad probably once or twice, because my host parents lived separately. I had a strict curfew, and my ээж was vigilant. She’d call me every hour, on the hour, to make sure I would come home. So annoying, but so loving.
So, if anyone were to ask me how I feel about my service right now, I’d say just ok. I’m ok.